Jones, Chapter 17 (excerpt)/Bobby’s Secret

Bobby slinks into bed, reaches for the remote and turns on the TV. He flips through the sports channels and turns the TV off. He buries himself under the pillows and imagines himself walking downstairs, calmly, to fix himself a cup of tea, and then sit on the old couch within sight of Mimi’s computer, and tell her, in an even voice, about his employment status.

Or he can press the pillows down on his face until he has trouble breathing.

He throws off the pillows. He sits up. He pushes the blankets away and sets his feet on the floor and sits up. He buries his face in his hands. Why is this so hard? Why should this make him so…queasy? He didn’t quit he was fired, for reasons he doesn’t even need to understand because he has imagined the largest conspiracy imaginable, a plot encompassing offices on either side of the ocean, a plot so complicated and base and naked it has its own soundtrack, some ominous Jason Bourne kind of minor keyed woodwind orchestration written to elicit sympathy and dread in equal measure.

Bobby laughs. He imagines himself as Jason Bourne and thinks it might be the most ridiculous thing he’s thought all day. Jason Bourne.

He stands up. He’s going to tell Mimi. He is the not the kind to hide secrets. Not of this magnitude. Mimi once told him she would know if he’d ever cheated on him and he would never have to tell her, though she’d prefer if he did. She knows he can’t keep a secret. She knows him too well, she knows him better than he knows himself, it’s a cliché but it’s true, he realizes that, though she has no idea what he was like at the office, she could never have imagined the transformation in him, forget Jason Bourne, her husband was more like The Hulk if anything. And The Hulk’s soundtrack is more different surely, more staccato, more percussion, maybe equal parts sympathy. The Hulk is, after all, not about rage, but about loneliness.

He’s already in his pyjama bottoms. He puts on a t-shirt, a tattered once-white tee with Vladimir Guerrero’s cartoonish mug plastered across it, his oldest shirt and so his most comfortable one. He opens the bedroom door and takes a deep breath and heads to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Or two cups of tea. She might like that. They have some gunmaicha in the cupboard. He’d like that too. Something gentle. Thoughtful. The right kind of tea makes Mimi close her eyes and think of something far away, a long time ago. Her parents, perhaps. The right kind of tea is her soul food.

Bobby puts on the kettle and searches the cupboards for the Japanese tea cups. He finds them and then he searches the gunmaicha and tea gloves and fills each glove with the right amount of tea and places them in the cups. Mimi turned him on to tea first, it was her first act of assimilation, the first step toward their union, the first sign he had that he was being invited into her life, into her essence. She had invited him to her apartment and she had made him tea and they talked through the night and in the morning he said he would make her eggs and she said she had some sausage in the freezer and that was the beginning and the end of their courtship; they would not be married for another year but after that night they both knew their marriage lay before them, it was just a matter of when.

The kettle starts whistling and Bobby pours the water into the cups and waits for the tea to steep. He knows Mimi doesn’t mind loose tea at the bottom of her cup but this is cleaner, she’s at her computer, working, perhaps she’d like a biscuit. He searches the pantry for tea biscuits and finds a box. An old box. He makes a note that they need tea biscuits. He might go shopping tomorrow. Maybe he’ll make tomorrow’s dinner. Maybe he’ll do actual housework and maybe he’ll take his mind off the work thing. He’s still getting paid. He’s going to get paid for a long time. He hasn’t yet appreciated the enormity of his severance. He’d never have approved something so generous. He might have fired the person who’d have suggested it.

He removes the gloves from the cups and places them in the sink. He takes a deep breath. He heads for the basement. At the base of the stairs, he watches Mimi as she stares into her screen. She has a hand calculator by the keyboard. Her fingers caress the tiny buttons on the calculator as she reads charts off the screen. In her yoga pants and baggy sweatshirt, she could be a college student.

He places one of the cups on her desk and walks to the old couch and sits. He sits and sips his tea and watches her and for the longest time she doesn’t acknowledge him at all, she continues reading whatever it is that’s on the screen, and then she silently reaches for her tea and brings it to her mouth and she inhales and closes her eyes and takes a sip. “Thank you,” she says.

“I have something to tell you,” he says.

“I know.”

Writer. Complainer. I drink bourbon. I have edited media, worked in content and branding and strategy, and chances are I’ll do those things again. @arjunbasu

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